Scotland edges closer to minimum price on drinks

Scotland edges closer to minimum price on drinks

A Parliamentary committee has backed a bill to introduce a minimum price on alcoholic drinks in Scotland, despite concerns among some of its members.

As expected, the Scottish Parliament's Health & Sport Committee has today (7 March) endorsed the ruling Scottish National Party's Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill. The proposed legislation would set a floor price on drinks, at a price per alcohol unit that is yet to be determined.

"The committee recognised that this Bill represents one element in a range of measures to reduce Scotland’s alcohol consumption," said the committee's convener, Duncan McNeill MSP. His deputy, Bob Doris, added: "International research and a range of health and economic experts, together with the licensing trade, all support this Bill."

However, the committee's report highlighted that some of its members remain sceptical about minimum pricing. "[They] believe a universal approach may penalise moderate drinkers and those in lower income groups", it said. 

Such resistance is unlikely to prevent the passage of minimum pricing through Parliament in Scotland, where the SNP holds a majority after winning extra seats last year. Drinks trade bodies, such as the Scotch Whisky Association, maintain that minimum pricing is illegal under European Union law and is too blunt a measure for tackling alcohol-related harm.

It is almost certain that any attempt to implement minimum pricing will lead to a legal challenge. Under UK law, Scotland has devolved powers to set its own policy on the matter. However, in a legal challenge at EU level, the UK Government would be forced to intervene, as Scotland is not a recognised member state of the EU.